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Treacherous by Tony Gairo-Gary Rissmiller Jazz Orchestra

I really liked this new big band album from the Tony Gairo-Gary Rissmiller Jazz Orchestra. Bands like this, containing relatively unknown musicians, seem to be springing up everywhere and this one with its big sound is one of the best.

Disciplined, well rehearsed and technically flawless, this swinging 16-piece group out of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania takes the creative compositions and arrangements of co-leader and tenor Tony Gairo, bringing them alive dynamically. Gairo, a product of the BMI Jazz Composer Workshop, learned his lessons well, contributing eight diverse pieces that display the various influences of Stan Kenton, Gil Evans and Manny Albam.

The works leave ample room for solos. Gairo, pianist Skip Wilson, trumpeter Sean McAnally and trombonist Larry Toft are especially effective. Drummer and co-leader Rissmiller is a driving force throughout.

Most distinctive about Gairo’s style is that the titles are very descriptive of what follows in the realm of tone poems. "Deadlines, Distractions and Diversion," utilizing a big, fat brass Kenton sound, has a hesitating quality with contrapuntal lines, punctuated by Rissmiller’s drums. All this suggests how uneven the pace of creation is. After the hesitancy, Gairo’s liberating tenor comes in, followed by more up-and-down riffs from the band, closing in resolution.

In this manner, another standout is the title track "Treacherous," which is said to have been written after driving home on a hazardous route during a snow storm. A herky-jerky rhythm at the beginning mirrors the uneasy trip. Gairo’s chaotic tenor solo emphasizes this feeling, as does McAnally's nervous punchy trumpet turn.

A rippling baritone solo by Paul Kendal begins "Revisited," a tune that Gairo brought out of the trunk after several years. The band is unleashed in this romp. Wilkins' wild piano solo follows before the band breaks out in an atonal Monkish mood. Then Gairo tops it off with his frantic tenor.

The best, though, is the delicate, loving, onomatopoetic "Portrait of My Wife." Starting with a bouncy sax cushion, a la Basie’s "Li’l Darlin,’" the band goes into a Gil Evans mode, with subtle shifting textures of sound. Pianist Williams and drummer Rissmiller are prominent here. The picture, though, takes a surprising turn at the end.

As mentioned in the notes, Gairo’s wife is a home gardener. Perhaps with this in mind, Larry Toft’s bawling muted trombone breaks in, seeming to scold a trampler of her plants. A humorous touch, making her affectionately human. Swinging and tender, "out there" and tender, a great combination in any album.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Tony Gairo-Gary Rissmiller Jazz Orchestra
  • CD Title: Treacherous
  • Genre: Big Band / Swing
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Sea Breeze Jazz
  • Tracks: Treacherous, Elusivity, Deadlines, Distractions and Diversions, Portrait of My Wife, Between the Pipes, Supermarket Sushi, Poke and Hope, Revisited
  • Musicians: Tony Gairo (tenor, soprano saxes), Gary Wissmiller (drums), Paul Rostock (bass), Dylan Schwab (trumpet), Sean McAnally (trumpet), John Vanor (trumpet), David Hall (trumpet), Larry Toft (trombone), Matt Wright (trombone), Jim Daniels (bass trombone), Ryan Harrington (alto, soprano saxes, flute), Lauren Nichols (alto, soprano saxes), Cliff Tracy (tenor, soprano saxes), Paul Tracy (baritone sax)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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